Minority Tolling Under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a) Does Not Apply To New Jersey Wrongful Death Claims
In Monk v. Kennedy University Hospital, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division recently addressed whether the minority tolling provision in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a), which allows minors to file medical malpractice claims until the age of 13, applies to wrongful death lawsuits filed on behalf of minor decedents or their estates. In that case, the parents of a deceased minor who died six months after his premature birth sued several defendants for medical malpractice and wrongful death.
The lawsuit was filed more than 4 years after the minor’s death and defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death and survival claims. Relying on the minority tolling provision in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a), the trial court denied the motion and found that the statute of limitations was tolled until the minor would have reached the age of 13.
The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the minority tolling provision did not apply under the Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4. The court noted that when the Wrongful Death Act was drafted, the legislature intended for wrongful death cases be filed within two years of a decedent’s death and not to include minority tolling for claims brought on behalf of deceased minors. The court held that the minority tolling provision did not apply because the statute allows only actions “by or on behalf of a minor” and a “minor” refers to a living infant or person under the age of legal competence. The Court reasoned that had the Wrongful Death Act intended to apply minority tolling to claims brought on behalf of deceased minors, it would have stated so, and there was nothing in the plain language of the statute to suggest that. The court further observed that the purpose of the minority tolling was to give a minor the opportunity to assert his or her legal rights at an age of maturity. However, this opportunity does not exist once a minor dies.
Because the minor in the case was deceased when the complaint was filed, the Court found that the two-year statute of limitations applied. However, the court also remanded the case back to the trial court to address the plaintiffs’ argument that they had substantially complied with the statute of limitations, an issue that had not been reached by the trial court.
The Monk decision makes clear that wrongful death claims involving minors must be filed within the two-year statute of limitations and that the minority tolling provision for medical malpractice does not apply to such claims.
Thank you to Arianna Arca for her contribution to this post. Please contact Andrew Gibbs with any questions.